First contractor completes OSHA pilot program

After nine months of intense preparation, an Iowa-based contracting company is the first to complete an OSHA program that makes it eligible for exemption from the agency’s regular inspections.

The Weitz Company of Des Moines was recognized June 22 for completing OSHA’s Challenge pilot program — a three-stage process for contractors to improve their safety and health management practices. Completion of the program makes Weitz eligible for OSHA’s Voluntary Protection program, which would take the company off the list for OSHA’s regular inspections. Each stage of the Challenge program had 15 to 20 steps.

“What we’re trying to accomplish is unique because OSHA’s voluntary programs are site-specific,” said Phil Mercuris, vice president of safety at Master Builders of Iowa, the coordinator that made sure Weitz met the criteria for the pilot program.

Weitz is one of 10 Associated General Contractors member companies that agreed to participate in the program. To be accepted, the firm had to submit company information and a statement of commitment to AGC, which then submitted an application to OSHA.

Matthew Frandsen, corporate safety director at Weitz, said the program’s steps dealt with accountability, subcontractor safety management and employee involvement and participation, including safety committees and perception surveys.

“We did not make any major changes in the way we do business,” he said, “(but) we have over time refined our safety processes.”

Edward Pachico, associate director of safety and health services at AGC, said Weitz’s ultimate success was involving everyone in the program — empowering every worker to participate in the company’s overall safety. Successfully finishing the program, Pachico said, proved Weitz’s safety and health program was implemented versus just being in a handbook.

“This fosters an attitude of personal responsibility for yourself and fellow worker,” he said. “It also shows OSHA that companies are willing to cooperate to make safer workplaces, as well as showing the companies that work at safer workplaces gets done faster.”

After each stage was complete, Weitz’s prize was written recognition from OSHA: a letter from the area director after stage one, the regional director after stage two and the assistant secretary of labor after stage three.

According to OSHA, the Voluntary Protection program, which Weitz will apply for next, is the highest recognition of safety and health excellence for construction contractors.
Nine months was an admirable time period for completing the program, Pachico said. Other companies, based on the level of their safety programs before entering the pilot program, could take much longer.

“What the pilot program does is break everything down into little bite-size pieces – some steps may take a day or two and others a month,” Pachico said.

VPP status would also allow Weitz to receive good-faith considerations for reduction of penalties and citations while working cooperatively to comply with OSHA standards and regulations, according to an AGC press release.